When I was little we lived with my grandmother near the northern shore of long island sound. On our ¼ acre lot she grew a vegetable garden that to me seemed immeasurably vast. My mother remembers squinting from our back porch, trying to pick out my toddler’s frame from among the tomato plants. I remember Bubba’s kitschy ‘ducks crossing’ sign complete with an orderly row of chicks, lovingly placed at what had seemed to be a grand intersection. Picking cucumbers and cherry tomatoes for our summer salads, and peppermint for my mother’s ice water were elevated jobs I felt both delighted and uniquely qualified to perform.
I remember once declaring to my neighbor’s father over cheese ravioli that I lived to eat. As a parent figure to me and the skilled and prolific family cook of Jamaican cuisine, he raised an eyebrow and belly-laughed. But I was serious. I understood in no uncertain terms that even simple food bound us together. Although a decade subsequently passed without my stepping foot into a vegetable garden, I could never shake the essentialness nor magic of plucking food from the ground and preparing it to feed my loved ones.
Years later as I began to approach wild foods, my conception of what gardening is, and how it shapes our relationship to place and culture, widened. As an educator, I’ve seen firsthand that edible weeds hold such potential to unlock in children a passion for both nature and cooking.
Mai grew up in southwestern CT, where she spent her days clamoring across barnacled boulders lining Long Island Sound, and capturing crickets to feed to her leopard frogs. She studied acting at Emerson College and graduated from Hampshire College with a self-designed B.A. in ecosystem mimicry agriculture and community circus theater. Alisha Mai has run nature-immersion programming since 2008, with Vermont Wilderness School, the Institute for Natural Learning, Wolftree Programs, White Pine Programs, and most recently, Wild Earth. Mai enjoys working with girls and teens, and incorporating physical play into her programs. She draws upon her background in theater and circus to create zany and magical experiences in nature. Alisha Mai is certified in Wildlife Track and Sign (Level II) through CyberTracker, and is a Wilderness First Responder. She teaches vinyasa yoga and aerial silks, and studies at Circus Warehouse in Queens. More about Alisha Mai's work.